iMac: Nearly Perfect

1998 – I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a computer since I got my own Mac Plus to replace an 8 MHz XT clone.

Steve Jobs introduces the iMac in 1998With iMac, Apple has recaptured something of the original Macintosh, the one that didn’t even need a model number. Back then, an 8 MHz 24-bit CPU, a 400 KB 3.5″ floppy, a GUI, and a mouse were enough to completely separate the Macintosh from the crowd.

Bondi iMacToday a swoopy design and radical color scheme set the iMac apart from the crowd.


  • 233 MHz PowerPC 750 with 512 KB backside cache
    (faster than a 400 MHz Pentium II!)
  • 32 MB RAM, expandable to 128 MB
  • 2 MB VRAM, expandable to 4 MB
  • 15″ multiscan monitor with up to 1024 x 768 resolution
  • USB (universal serial bus) keyboard and mouse
  • 24x CD-ROM
  • 100Base-T ethernet
  • 4kbps infrared networking
  • 33.6kbps internal modem

The JetsonsAll that in a white-and-teal case that many say would look at home with the Jetsons.

Advice: If you’re ready to spend $1,200 to $1,500 for a computer this year, wait until the iMac ships in August.


It’s cool. It’s fast. It has the same kind of mystique as the new Beetle. It’s a worthy successor to the SE/30 (finally!).

But it’s not perfect.

For instance, it doesn’t have a floppy drive – not even as an option. So how do you install Suitcase, QuicKeys, Speed Doubler, RAM Doubler, or any of a host of other utilities and applications that don’t ship on CD-ROM?

That’s big oops #1.

Big oops #2 is that Apple forgot the SCSI port. This is the first Mac since the Plus came off the assembly line in 1986 to eliminate the SCSI port.

That would be fine if the iMac had FireWire, the up and coming 100-400 Mbps standard for connecting computers and peripherals. But the iMac only has USB, a 12 Mbps protocol. Slower than SCSI, which is usually implemented in 5 MBps or 10 MBps on the Mac. (MBps = megabytes per second. Mbps = megabits per second. 12 Mbps = 1.5 MBps.)

So you can’t connect your Zip drive, Jaz drive, CD-ROM burner, or external hard drive to the iMac.

How will you get files from an older Mac without ethernet to the iMac?

Definitely big oops #2.

Of course, in the long run we may see USB versions of the Zip drive. But since it’s slower than SCSI, it would be a bottleneck for Jaz, SyJet, and external hard drives.

One more thing. Apple is positioning the iMac as internet-ready.

Haven’t they heard of the new v.90 protocol for 56kbps modems? Although most users are still at 28.8 and 33.6, everyone seems to be buying 56k modems today. The 33.6kbps modem planned for the iMac is downright pedestrian compared with v.90.

C’mon, Apple, eliminate big oops #3 by going to a v.90 modem before you roll out the iMac. (Let’s hope the modem is in a comm slot for easy upgrade.)

Big oops #4 (thanks, Ben!). How you gonna print? No LocalTalk ports. Most home users don’t have ethernet networks with LaserWriters attached. Do USB printers exist yet? Even if a few do, do they have Mac drivers?

And then the geek in me comes out. Hey, I use a 20″ monitor at work and a 17″ at home. What do I want with a gorgeous but small 15″ screen? Either give us an external video port, a PCI slot for adding a video card, or an iMac without a screen.

Let’s call that small oops #1, since I’m probably not the kind of buyer Apple is after with this machine.

One more thing, though. Cool as the color scheme may be in a dorm room, classroom, or some family rooms, it could be decidedly out of place in the kitchen, living room, or workplace (I guarantee they will wind up in the workplace).

Small oops #2 is only a problem if Apple doesn’t offer alternate color schemes. Personally, I think black-on-black would be awesome. Or how about a nice maroon accent instead of teal? Give us two or three options.

Sheer Coolness

Despite these little complaints, the iMac is a winner in terms of bang for the buck. Don’t let these things deter you unless you need a larger screen/higher resolution, more than 128 MB RAM, or a fast external drive (USB is okay, just not fast enough for hard drives).

Beyond value, the iMac is so amazingly cool that it puts all previous Macs to shame.

  • Semitransparent colored side panels let you see the insides.
  • Apple's round "hockey puck" USB mouseA round mouse.
  • Not a straight edge anywhere on the computer.
  • It’s not really any bigger than a 15″ AV monitor!

Now, if they could only bundle it with Virtual PC, the Wintel world wouldn’t know what hit it.

Further Reading

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